When Ehud Olmert first talked about his "convergence plan", I couldn't help but notice that as far as official Palestinian reaction was concerned, Fatah's response generally seemed much more negative than Hamas'. Not that Hamas actually favoured it - in fact at one point I think that Khalid Mishaal referred to it as "an act of war" - but generally I think that in comparison to Fatah, Hamas' reaction was almost indifferent. And I found that interesting, though at the time I wasn't sure why.
Gershon Baskin had an opinion piece published in yesterday's Jerusalem Post (on the subject of disengagement and convergence) that made me revisit the subject and perhaps gave an explanation for the difference in Palestinian reactions. He writes:
Israel would like to claim that by withdrawing from the territories it is ending its responsibility for the Palestinians by essentially ending the occupation. From the Palestinian perspective, however, the unilateral Israeli withdrawals not only strengthen Hamas and Islamic Jihad, they also create a greater entrenchment of the occupation.
Palestinians believe that if tens of thousands of settlers are removed from settlements east of the separation barriers to settlements that are west of the barrier - but east of the Green Line - nothing will have changed, except for the fact that Israel will be cheating the world in creating an illusion that it is withdrawing from occupied territories.
Most Palestinians, including those closest to Mahmoud Abbas, believe that should Israel actually implement its unilateral plans of convergence, the feasibility of the two-state solution will come to an end and there will be no viability for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
From their perspective, convergence means not only the removal of Jerusalem from the table, but the placing of a noose around the neck of the West Bank. The Jordan Valley will remain under Israel's control, including the crossings into Jordan. The West Bank will be completely sealed off on the west. There will be no territorial link between the two Palestinian territories and no policy of enabling people and goods to move between Gaza and the West Bank through Israel.
Gaza will be strangled except for a tiny air tube in Rafah; and, according to Palestinians, Israel has placed a veto on talks with Egypt to enable Palestinians to develop a cargo transport in Rafah. With this kind of picture in mind, how could any Palestinian support the convergence plan?
The emphasis in that text is mine, and I think it's key. Convergence involves Israel withdrawing settlers (though not the IDF) from the smaller settlements on the eastern side of the wall, into those areas of the Occupied Territories that Israel intends to annex - the Jordan Valley, East Jerusalem, and the settlement blocs (Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Ariel etc). - and then declaring that these are Israel's final borders [Footnote].
The importance of these borders from a Palestinian perspective is that the remnant of land left over after convergence cannot support an independent Palestinian state.
Israel did not choose its major areas of settlement randomly. It did not toss a dart at a map and say, "Yup, let's build one there". The major settlements are where they are because they serve the strategic purpose of controlling those assets and resources that would make a Palestinian state viable. They were put there precisely to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Whoever controls the Jordan Valley, East Jerusalem, Maale Adumim, Ariel and Gush Etzion controls the economy, the trade, and the water and arable land resources of the West Bank, which is precisely why the major settlement blocs were put where they are. To tell the Palestinians that they can have an independent state in the Occupied Territories, but deliberately stripped of all the aspects that would allow it to function as an independent state, is effectively to say that there will be not be an independent Palestinian state there.
So what exactly are you left with after this kind of convergence is carried out (which, as I've said in my footnote, I really can't see happening, but I'm just thinking out loud here)? Well, diplomatically you would have an expanded Israel within annexation "final borders" that no-one apart from Israel recognises, and an Israeli-dominated Palestinian statelet with borders that nobody outside Israel gives the time of day to, least of all the Palestinians. In the meantime, the really important changes are taking place on the ground, where you have deeper and perhaps irreversible settlement in the key areas of the West Bank that Israel simply has to get out of if there is to be a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories. And ultimately you end up with a territory that can no longer be split into two feasible parts, with a distinct and growing Palestinian majority on that territory as a whole.
So the end result is, as Gershon Basking mentions, there will be no viability for the establishment of a Palestinian state. But as he points out, it’s more than that: the ultimate result is that there will be no viability for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories, i.e. alongside Israel. And if you take away the prospect of a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories, you are not taking “Palestine” off the table but “Israel and Palestine”, or what we call the two state solution. If you annex the things that make possible a second state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, then you are building a single state. (And, incidentally, doing it in the worst way possible, i.e. by default, rather than by popular choice).
And I think that might explain why “convergence” leaves Fatah more agitated than Hamas.
Israeli journalist Amira Hass once summed up the effective difference between Fatah and Hamas as being 450 years. What she meant was this: Fatah believes that there will be an independent Palestine; that it will exist alongside Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders (and therefore without any substantial implementation of the right of Return); and that it will take about 50 years to achieve this. Hamas also believes there will be an independent Palestine, but believes that Israel will never agree to end the Occupation and is currently too strong for Palestinians to force it; so there will never be an independent Palestine in a two state solution. It believes that the best Palestinians can do now is to resist and be steadfast until the balance of power has shifted against Zionism, which will be ultimately dismantled. So Hamas too thinks there will be an independent Palestine, but this will be on all of Greater Israel/Mandate Palestine, and it will take about 500 years to achieve.
Obviously that’s a simplification in that it leaves out a million variables, the most important one being: What would happen to the viability of Hamas’ vision of the future if there really was a genuine two state solution on offer? But it does I think help explain why Hamas seemed less concerned about the ramifications of convergence than Fatah. From their perspective, if convergence takes off the negotiating table a two state solution that Israel never accepted in the first place, so what?
Footnote: As an aside, I should say that I don't think there is any possibility whatsoever that Israel will be able to fix its borders along those lines. I think Ehud Olmert had hoped to follow Ariel Sharon's policy of "it doesn't matter what the rest of the world thinks as long as you have George Bush on board", which is why he placed such emphasis on carrying out convergence by 2008, i.e. by the end of Bush's second term. But Olmert can see as well as anyone else that George Bush is suddenly and horribly turning into the lamest lame duck President that ever waddled lamely back into the Oval Office. Having George Bush on board in 2006 counts for a great deal less than having George Bush aboard in 2003. I think this means that those trappings of the convergence plan that match the underlying mood of mainstream Jewish Israeli public opinion (i.e. a preference for unilateralism and an estrangement from the settler movement) will be carried out - like the building of the Wall and maybe the dismantling of some outposts - but the grander scheme of convergence as the setting of "final borders" is already dead in the water.
So the fact I'm discussing the goals of the convergence plan doesn't imply that I think those goals are realistic.